Sermon 6

Hate Yourself

Luke 14:26

September 16, 2007


Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of God the Father, Son (X) and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus tells us in Luke 14:26 to hate ourselves. This is shocking! It seems the exactly wrong thing to say. So why does he say it? No one else tells us this – except, perhaps, homicidal monsters and sexual perverts. So why does Jesus tell us to hate ourselves? He’s not a wicked person. He’s not a pervert. He’s the good shepherd, after all (John 10:11). He’s the one on whom we depend for our safety and salvation. So what’s up here? Is there any method in his madness? Why does he tell us to hate ourselves? This instruction seems wild beyond measure. Surely there seems to have been a mistake made somewhere. But as Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) writes in his famous book on the near sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22, entitled Fear and Trembling (1843) (Kierkegaard’s Writings 6:72):


Luke 14:26 offers a remarkable teaching on the absolute duty to God…. This is a hard saying. Who can bear to listen to it [John 6:60]? This is the reason… that we seldom hear it. But this silence is only an escape that is of no avail…. The context in which these words appear…. indicate that the words are to be taken in their full terror in order that each person may examine himself…


Dodging Self-Hatred

So it’s no surprise, then, that some say the word μισεω, usually translated as hate, actually means something else. It means something softer, like “give up,” “love less” (TEV, 1976; CEV, 1995) or “let go” (Eugene Peterson, The Message, 2002). But that word μισεω won’t budge under these clever, definitional revisions. Μισεω has been translated as hate for generations, and hate it must remain. We cannot dodge so easily the command to hate ourselves (see Gerhard O. Forde, “Fake Theology,” Dialog, Fall 1983). So the word misogyny, for instance, or the hatred of women, comes from μισεω, and rightly so – as does misanthropy or the hatred of humanity. Hatred then – and no less offensive a word – is the only correct translation of μισεω – whether we like it or not.

      Others try to head self-hatred off at the pass by saying it’s not about hating ourselves. No, they say, it’s rather about hating our lives – which they think is less than ourselves. But when Luke 14:26 says we are to hate our lives it means ourselves. The two expressions mean the same – so the distinction between self and life is without any difference. This is because the word at stake here, ψυχην or psyche, means our entire life or self (see Luke 6:9, 9:24, 12:23, 17:33). Ψυχην therefore leaves nothing out of ourselves that could be loved instead of hated. For “from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness” in us (Isaiah 1:6). So “we are all utterly lost [and] there is no good in us” [The Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) pp. 309, 519]. What must be hated, then, is our entire being – or at least that’s what the word ψυχην means in Luke 14:26.


Defying Self-Hatred

But these linguistic, Biblical facts don’t stop the critics. They’re convinced – even against those facts – that self-love trumps self-hatred in the Bible. They’re convinced that those who think Jesus taught self-hatred are maliciously deluded. “Such attitudes are dangerous distortions and destructive misinterpretations of scattered Bible verses grossly misread by negative-thinking Bible readers who project their own negative self-image onto the pages of Holy Scripture.” So sin, rather than coming from self-love, actually springs up from being a “non-self-loving” person. And salvation isn’t aided and abetted by self-hatred, but rather comes only through acquiring “a noble self-love” [Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (1982) pp. 113, 128, 49].

      In this critique, self-love and self-hate are switched around – making self-love good and self-hate bad. In the last half of St. Augustine ’s (354-430) massive and magisterial The City of God, [trans. Marcus Dods (1950) p. 477], he wrote the exact opposite:


Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; [and] the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.


      This venerable teaching is now being brazenly assaulted with impunity. For generations it guided the church in the way of salvation. But now it’s thought to be passé, simply because it offends “the dignity of the person” (R. Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 31).

      And what’s more, Jesus tells you to love your neighbor “as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Now some think this rule implies that we should love ourselves and only then love others. So this verse, they say, trumps Luke 14:26. But as Luther points out, this cannot be so, since nowhere in the Bible is there a command to love ourselves (LW 25:513). So what we have in the line ως σεαυτον or “as yourself,” is actually a call to love your neighbor instead of yourself (LW 26:355-57). This line, then, isn’t about self-love at all.


Defining Self-Hatred

Now when Jesus tells us to hate ourselves, this coheres with other Christian teachings. So this isn’t an aberrant idea. In line with it we’re told to “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). We’re also told to “lose” our lives for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24, 17:33). And we’re told to “die” to ourselves (Romans 6:4; Galatians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 5:14). All these verses go down the same road as self-hatred. Its meaning therefore is to stand against ourselves – for we are our own worst enemy (Luther’s Works 27:364, 42:48)! We don’t have our best interest at heart. We shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly. So hating ourselves means we don’t like our interests and instincts. It means we reject our chosen values and ways. Self-hatred, then, is about saying “not as I will,” but as God wills (Matthew 26:39). This is because we’re terrible sinners (Luke 5:8; Mark 7:21-23; Jeremiah 17:9) – and, indeed, in self-hatred there’s “nothing to hate but sin” (LW 14:162)! As such we must not be followed but opposed – for we are grievous sinners. The Lutheran Confessions elongate this judgment saying “man is… so miserably perverted, poisoned, and corrupted that by disposition and nature he is thoroughly wicked… and hostile to God” (BC, p. 524).

      Self-hatred, then, is not about depression, despair, lethargy, or pushing us to the brink of suicide. It’s rather about fighting against ourselves so that we might serve God and care for our neighbors (Luke 10:27). Kierkegaard put it this way (KW 5:143):


The single individual [is to fight] for himself with himself within himself…. in the fight to free himself in equality before God.


      In this battle – which is “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) – we fight against our sinful self so we might live a righteous life – that we might stand before God in equality, as a sinner, with all the rest of humanity, pleading for mercy. So hating our selves serves a good end. It’s not only about destruction. In it we indeed break up the “fallow ground” or hardened crust of our lives, but only so that new life may spring up (Jeremiah 4:3; Hosea 10:12). This is an odd battle, no doubt. For in it we are both the pugilist and the one fought against. So with ourselves, within ourselves, we fight against ourselves, for ourselves – that we might be blessed. Strange as this may seem, this struggle (Philippians 2:13; LW 35:377) is essential, for it puts us on the road to salvation.

      So what seems only negative, is actually positive. Self-hatred therefore works for our well-being and sounds an alarm against perversions of itself


when the bustler wastes his time and powers in the service of futile, inconsequential pursuits…. [and] when the light-minded person throws himself almost like a nonentity into the folly of the moment and makes nothing of it…. [and] when the depressed person desires to be rid… of himself…. [and] when someone surrenders to despair because the world or another person has faithlessly left him betrayed…. [and] when someone self-tormentingly thinks to do God a service by torturing himself (KW 16:23).


      Self-hatred expects too much from us to be a party to any of these distorted, mistaken ways (LW 31:160). For we stand against ourselves in self-hatred for only two reasons: [1] so we can honor God and [2] so we can serve our neighbor as we should (Matthew 22:36-40). Anything that holds us back from these two pursuits isn’t part of self-hatred – regardless of what the critics say.


Defending Self-Hatred

But is self-hatred the only way to reach these goals? Surely there must be a far less offensive way to go. Why does honoring God and helping our neighbors require us to hate ourselves? Well, it’s only because we are such terrible sinners – being sinful even “beyond measure” (Romans 7:13). If it were not for that, we wouldn’t have to hate ourselves. So if we deny that, self-hatred no longer makes sense and can be willfully disregarded. But as long as we belong to a crooked, perverse, adulterous generation (Mark 8:38; Philippians 2:15), we’ll have to hate ourselves if we are going to save ourselves “for eternal life” (John 12:25). We’re going to have to earnestly “attack” the old Adam and Eve in us (BC, p. 445). We’re going to have to crush this huge and horrible monster of self-righteousness with “the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of divine wrath” (LW 26:310). If we refuse to do that, we’re nothing but “damnable knaves” (LW 43:228, 18:98)! But how are we members of such a fallen humanity? What’s the evidence for this? In the Bible there seems to be at least four descending degrees of degradation that testify to our wretched, sinful, disgusting state, which justifies our hatred of ourselves.

1. Dullness. First, we suffer from dullness – we’re asleep to our predicament. Like the people of Laodicea , we’re in a fog and distracted by life. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). So we drift through life not knowing how bad off we really are. Our eyes are glazed over – and if told of our plight, we don’t listen because we don’t care because we don’t know any better. So we’re indeed asleep. Because of this, God grabs us in his word, saying, “Awake O sleeper, O drunkard, be aroused from your stupor and live” (Ephesians 5:14; Joel 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; Matthew 25:5). Get a grip, he says! So with Antonio Machado (1875-1939) we should be lead on to confess [Times Alone (1917) trans. Robert Bly (1983) p. 109]:


What was your word, Jesus?

Love? Affection? Forgiveness?

All your words were

One word: Wakeup [Velad].


      2. Laziness. And secondly, when we do awake, we become defensive, working to shield ourselves from unpleasantness – thereby showing our devilish “dragon’s tail” (LW 22:397). And so we work hard to amass wealth – for ourselves – to help ourselves idolatrously feel “secure, happy, fearless, as if [we] were sitting in the midst of paradise” (BC, p. 365) – in clear defiance of the “flaming sword” posted to keep us from re-entering paradise (Genesis 3:24). This pursuit of ease and tranquility is foolishness, says Luke 12:16-21, for the way to life is the hard, narrow way which few favor (Luke 13:23-24; Matthew 7:13).

      3. Recklessness. But we also defend ourselves by redefining goodness. We say evil is good and good is evil (Isaiah 5:20). This enables us to love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). And so quite gleefully, we’re “hell bent for leather.” We throw all caution to the wind and pursue our basest desires. And we love sinning (LW 22:390). For deeply rooted in our sinful hearts we have the “desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life” (LW 43:183)! So indeed we’re like the prodigal son, wallowing in “loose living” (Luke 15:13). And none of this bothers us because we have redefined goodness so it can be included in our perverted morality. But this too is condemned when Jesus says he has come to poke out the eyes of those who see life in this distorted way (John 9:39).

      4. Disability. Finally, we’re further mired in sinful filthiness by being unable to do the good we should do, and helplessly dragged into doing the evil that disgusts us (Romans 7:18-24). This captivity makes us wretched and pitiful. And it is unavoidable, since every one who sins is a “slave to sin” (John 8:34). So if we try to improve, our efforts will fall under their own weight. Any self-confidence, then, runs aground (LW 3:4; 26:171; 31:371).


Displaying Self-Hatred

We should then follow Proverbs 9:8 and love the one who rebukes us. We shouldn’t resists the call to hate ourselves. We should instead say: “Thank you Lord! I needed that hit up the side of the head. It hurt alright, but nothing else could help and only you loved me enough to tell me this saving, offensive truth!” These should be our words because as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before a fall.” So no wonder “the Lord of hosts… is against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high” (Isaiah 2:12). For it’s precisely this pride that tries to keep us from the cleansing abrasives in self-hatred. And pride strikes us all. For each of us has a “philosopher in us” [Anthony Kenny, The Legacy of Wittgenstein (1984) p. 48]. And “philosophy and ego are never very far apart.” In fact, “philosophical discussion can be a kind of intellectual blood sport, in which egos get bruised and buckled, even impaled…. Plain showing off” is also a part of it [Colin McGinn, The Making of a Philosopher (2002) p. 63]. So because of our supposed superiority, we think we’re better than others, believing we’re more talented, harder working and better educated than most [LW 18:263; Robert Taylor, Restoring Pride (1996) p. 31; contra Philippians 2:3]. But this isn’t the Biblical way. Even so, we still hold back and resist the self-hatred in Luke 14:26.

      Therefore God sends a Savior for us, Christ Jesus, who suffers the same humiliating humility that is required of us in hating ourselves. In this way he shows us that he doesn’t ask of us anything he’ll not himself do first. So Jesus leaves his heavenly abode, filled with all the glory, honor and respect of the angelic hosts, and takes on “sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). And this descent is no cake walk, even for the only Son of God (Luke 22:44). For he comes to be “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And in the process he is mocked, bound, spit upon, slapped, kicked, stripped, whipped and forsaken (Matthew 26:67, 27:2, 28-31, 39-44, 46). And he endures all of this voluntarily – as he did the washing of the foul feet of his faithless disciples (John 13:12-17; Matthew 26:31, 56). In this display you have “an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21) – even with the humiliation included (contra Robert H. Schuller, Self-Esteem, p. 84)! So Jesus, though he didn’t need to hate himself because he was sinlessness (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19), did so anyway. He denied himself and gave up his life in the most degrading, painful way on the cross – becoming even “a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). And in this he “was self-denial” himself (KW 15:224).

      But even this powerful example will not suffice. In addition we need redemption and forgiveness. This is because, try though we may to hate ourselves, we will fall back again and again into being “lovers of self, lovers of money,… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4; LW 29:119). For we continue to have a “mad passion for [our] own glory” (LW 33:226). So we need deliverance from ourselves, from beyond ourselves (Romans 7:24). And this we have in Christ Jesus. For the one who gave us this model of humiliation, also frees us from our sin through his very humiliation. This he does by taking our sins upon himself, suffering the punishment for them, and then sharing his victory with us, though we didn’t deserve it (Romans 5:8). By his wounds indeed we have been saved (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 8:9).


Developing Self-Hatred

But it isn’t enough to talk about and even affirm self-hatred as we have done today. We must also implement it and develop it in our daily lives – “walking by” it, if you will (Galatians 5:25). Now the key to this is Christian actions – like those two dozen listed in Romans 12:9-21. This is what self-hatred does to us – it puts work and action in the place of feelings and sentiment. Self-hatred displaces those hurt, offended, complaining, exhausted and bruised feelings. Now we no longer dwell in them, but put our head down and plow straight ahead (Luke 9:62; LW 15:113; 44:77). This gives us new power. For serving God and neighbor usurps our feelings – whether disrespected or honored, sullen or thrilling.

      But we can’t do any of this on our own. Only God can fill us with the competence and confidence we will need to quit living for ourselves (2 Corinthians 3:6; 5:15). Only then can we do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Only then can we hate ourselves while never hating others (1 John 2:9-11). And this we do, giving all the glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). For this righteousness of ours doesn’t belong to us, because of our sin, so it remains alien to us, extra nos – on loan from God (LW 12:367; 24:347; 25:137, 415; 26:170, 387; 27:21; 51:28). Amen.

(printed as preached but with a few changes)